Forced marriage is not a problem that is specific to one country or culture. According to statistics, countries known for high levels of forced marriages include Pakistan; Bangladesh; India; Somalia; Afghanistan; and Saudi Arabia. However in 2016, 11% of cases that were dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit were taking place right here in the UK.
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was established in 2005 and is a joint Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Home Office. This organisation provides support and advice to victims of forced marriage and also to professionals. The FMU operates inside and outside of the UK. It provides advice by telephone to those in need; it helps stop a potential spouse from coming to the UK; and it also rescues victims who have been taken from overseas. If a victim of forced marriage has already been taken abroad, the FMU, along with the assistance of the British embassy, have the power and ability to have the victim returned to the UK.
The definition of a forced marriage is a marriage where one or both parties are married without consent or against his/her own will. This is different to an arranged marriage where both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party in identifying a spouse. Forced marriage can include physical pressure such as threats or violence and emotional/psychological pressure for example bringing shame to the family. Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales and this offence includes taking somebody overseas to be married and also marrying somebody who lacks capacity to consent whether they are pressured or not.
Forced marriage made its mark in UK legislation by the implementation of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 which came into force on 25 November 2008. Pursuant to Section 63A of the Act,
“the Court may make an order for the purposes of protecting:- (a) a person from being forced into a marriage or from any attempt to be forced into a marriage; or (b) a person who has been forced into a marriage”. Section 63B states that “a Forced Marriage Protection Order may contain- (a) such prohibitions, restrictions and requirements; and (b) such other terms as the Court considers appropriate for the purpose of the Order”.
In light of the above, a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) can be used to prevent a marriage from happening;
- it can order somebody to hand over passports or any other travel documents;
- it can stop harassment and threats;
- it can reveal somebody’s whereabouts and it can also prevent somebody from being taken abroad.
The legislation sets out the bare bones of the law but there are no regulations outlining how it should be applied. It is loosely drafted and is therefore open to interpretation which allows the Court to implement any such terms it deems necessary to protect the victim. A FMPO is tailored to the needs of that particular victim and their circumstances. Those who can apply for a FMPO include the victim themselves; a relevant third party such as a Local Authority; and any other person who has leave of the Court. As with Non Molestation Orders, an application for an FMPO can be made on an emergency basis without the Respondent being made aware of the Order.
Up until 2014, if somebody breached an FMPO, they were committing an offence of contempt of Court and they could face two years imprisonment. The Court can also attach a power of arrest to the Order which then enables the Police to arrest the perpetrator if the victim reports a breach of the Order. However the severity of this offence has become more widely recognised and understood in more recent years. This resulted in the implementation of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which made forced marriage a criminal offence with a custodial sentence of up to seven years. Further, those who breach a Forced Marriage Protection Order can face five years in prison.
Victims of forced marriage are at risk of significant violence and even murder by their own families. It is essential that lawyers and other professionals treat these cases with such care and consider all possible safeguarding tactics that could keep the victim safe. The FMU are committed to making people aware of the seriousness of this offence. They hold approximately 100 events a year and provide training and outreach work for professionals such as the Local Authority; the Police; the Judiciary; schools; charities and also airport officials. The FMU’s campaign focuses on the ‘right to choose’.
The UK promotes equality, independence and free will for all people no matter what race, sex or ethnicity. It is with that in mind that is it shocking to read that there were 371 victims of forced marriage under the age of 18 years and there were 497 cases of victims aged between 18-25 years old. In 2016 we have seen the highest levels of forced marriage cases since 2012. Knowledge and awareness is driven by education and so it is essential that the FMU continue to educate victims and professionals of the cruelty of this crime.
For more information speak to one of our Sheffield based solicitors, call us on 0114 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.